EU foreign policy must promote freedom of religion and secularism

6 October 2011

EU foreign policy must promote freedom of religion and secularism

Centrist liberals D66 joined the SP in the European Parliament in urging the adoption of foreign policy rules for the protection of freedom of religion and philosophical conviction and the furtherance of the principle of separation between religious establishment and state outside Europe. The European diplomatic corps, known as the EU External Action Service, should be acting against discriminatory laws abroad. The two parties also want the High Representative for EU foreign policy, Catherine Ashton to publish an annual report on the issue. This was the outcome of a debate in the European Parliament organised on Thursday by the two Dutch opposition parties and attended by diplomats and senior advisers of the US government and the European Union.

SP Euro-MP Dennis de Jong says that “together with an alliance of MEPs from every political group I have, since the establishment of the EU foreign service, urged that the protection of freedom of religion be given a central place in European foreign policy. Today’s discussion has shown that all religions and all philosophical convictions, including those which are non-religious, deserve protection."

D66 Euro-MP Sophie in 't Veld, President of the European Platform for Secularism in Politics agrees. “The EU must now do all it can to protect religious minorities from violence and persecution. In its foreign policy the EU should be promoting secular democratic values as the best protection for freedom of religion and philosophical conviction, which must include non-religious beliefs. This is now of increased importance against the background of the Arab spring.”

In countries with a state religion there are major problems. There are bans on leaving a religion, and apostates are violently persecuted, while religious minorities are oppressed because they adhere to a religion other than that of the state. According to Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur in this area, an active and respectful form of secularism is the best guarantor of protection for freedom of religion.

SP and D66 agree that the European diplomatic corps should have concrete guidelines actively promoting the propagation of religious freedom as a basic right in other parts of the world. A practical application would be better than vague goals. On the other hand, freedom of religion and of philosophical conviction must not be allowed to put in danger the freedom of women, of sexual orientation and of expression.

Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary General for the EU External Action Service, stressed that Ashton placed great importance on the matter. "The groundwork is already done,” he said, “but a change in attitudes may take time."

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